Spa Junkie in… Thailand

Our covert columnist prepares for blissful seaside pampering – what could possibly go wrong?

Image: Jay Yeo

“Is this what our spa retreat is going to be like?” My girlfriend is visibly irritated. We’ve just landed in Koh Samui; the plane has not even stopped at its docking point, and my phones are already going off like rockets. A dab hand at talking on one and e-mailing or texting on the other, I scramble to respond to all of them before the close of business day in London.

Koh Samui airport is one of my favourites, with its thatched roof, open-air terminal building, stone Buddhas, palm trees and, of course, that hot, muggy air that hits you as your weary body peels out of the plane. It all combines to make me happy in that red-velvet-cupcake sort of way: you just know that for a few days, you are in for a glorious treat. We are en route to Kamalaya.


Some have called this wellness retreat the poor man’s Chiva Som; but as I settle into my beachside villa, I have to say the accommodation here trumps the same level at Chiva Som hands down. Kamalaya rests on a tropical hillside, an ancient monks’ cave at its centre. My villa nestles amid ancient granite boulders covered in tropical vegetation, through which streams trickle and flow; the whole slopes down to a tranquil private beach. I have a spectacular ocean view and a great deck, on which I can already picture multiple afternoon naps.

Overcome by jet lag and heavy lids, we decide to stay in and have a massage and room service, unpack and review the activity programme. As I watch the sun go down and slurp on my veggie soup, the stress of the past few weeks gently begins to dissipate. I have been deep in the throes – and the woes – of planning the summer, a task that gets ever more daunting as single friends become married friends, become pregnant friends, become “we are breeding our own football team” friends. For something that’s ostensibly about having a good time, it’s been stressful beyond words.

I want a week to myself, to be pampered and cocooned in a feet-in-the-sand-type resort. Nothing too fancy, and definitely nothing where getting dressed for dinner becomes a job in itself. I want nothing painful, stressful or difficult, no 5am wake-up calls followed by mixes or potions that give you the runs, no ruinously expensive treatments, no bunking with strangers – just relaxation and shaking off the stress of the first half of the year. The thought of trading the gladiator ring just to see all my opponents days later at a beach restaurant, with their Vilebrequins and hairy muffin tops, does not appeal. I need some me time, somewhere no one but my friend knows my name and vice versa. And so far, this is perfect.


“This place has a really unique energy. I think this is exactly what we needed.” My companion, known to her friends as “Pocket Rocket”, has arrived in a similar state of overworked, over-stressed, over-client-entertained, over-cocktailed, general over-it-ness. We discuss the various programmes as we breakfast on detox juices, which are made fresh from fruit and veg you select yourself. She settles on the Detox package; and I decide to make it up as I go along. This freestyle strategy can get most spas up in arms, but my experience has proved that it’s often best to book just the basics till you get a feel for the place, the treatments and the therapists. In the past this has saved me both time and money – but mostly it’s saved me energy.

The standard package at Kamalaya includes a five-night stay on full board, a wellness consultation, various massages, daily fitness activities and use of the communal steam room and pools. I’ll bolt on bit-by-bit any other treatments based on my whimsy and what’s recommended.

My consultation starts with what is called a bio-impedance analysis. Electrodes are attached to my fingertips and a machine interprets and prints out important indicators, such as how healthy your cells are, your fat-to-muscle ratio, your hydration level and your BMI (body mass index). The machine takes the guessing out of the diagnosis; unlike the more abstract face reading I’d had at the SHA clinic in Spain, this machine uses cellular information to indicate any imbalance.

“You’re in great nick; 10 out of 10 on the bio-impedance analysis,” says the naturopath as she runs through my pre-filled questionnaire. “You are well hydrated, have low body fat and a perfect BMI. So let’s see what the issue is.”

I encourage her not to break her head on the forms: I’m just knackered, that’s it. I am perfectly well; I just need some time out. I tell her I want to do some restorative treatments – nothing too invasive – and yes, if I can leave with my skin a little tighter and the whites of my eyes a little brighter, then wonderful.

“If that’s the case, let’s put you on a rebalance programme. Your goal should be detox, so I’m not putting you on a calorie-controlled diet – in fact, I want you to enjoy as much fruit, vegetables and fish as you like. But no coffee, alcohol or sugar. That will take a few years off right there. I would suggest daily acupuncture with the Chinese doctor, yoga and massage. And for those little ‘handlebars’, jump in the infrared sauna for 30 minutes a day. OK?”

So far, I’ve had 45 minutes of scheduling while sipping on a banana smoothie. I head off to the beach, where Pocket Rocket is already knocking back coconut water and working on her tan. She’s not big on pain or exercise, this one.

It’s about 9.30pm. I’ve just emerged from my stone-carved outdoor shower, and am enveloped in crisp cotton sheets. I get a few pages into my book, and then stop to revel in the bliss of it all. Just as I exhale an “Aaaahhhhh” of perfect contentment, the silence is cut by an incredibly loud, siren-like chirping. Geck – geck – gecko. It’s almost unthinkably loud – I simply cannot ignore it, let alone sleep through it. It stops and starts every hour, almost on the hour, taunting me. At midnight I pluck up the courage to call reception; nobody answers. At 5am, as the first rays of sun draw faint lines through the blinds, it finally stops.



I’m exhausted and discombobulated; but I decide not to mention my nocturnal companion. I’m sure it’s an unfortunate one-off.

I start my morning with light yoga. It’s billed as a Kundalini yoga class, which here is apparently more about breathing. Powerful breathing, and varied movements. “On your all-fours; now, stick your tongue out and pretend you’re a panting dog,” commands the teacher. “Pant-pant-pant!” she calls as she talks us through the movements. I can hear PR, who’s a yoga virgin, trying unsuccessfully to stifle hysterical giggles from the back of the studio.

Breakfast is a selection of detoxifying juices and a wonderful buckwheat and berry pancake. I’ve scheduled my days to start with yoga, thereafter leaving me free to enjoy some time sunbathing and sleeping before any treatments. I head immediately to the beach to catch a nap under the palms, where the fresh coconut water I’m served improves my mood.

At 4pm, it’s time for my traditional Chinese abdominal massage: Chi Nei Tsang. The Chinese believe that the gut is the body’s second brain, and that digestive problems can lead to disease (very similar, incidentally, to the Mayr philosophy I’d experienced some weeks before). This massage works very deep in your abdominal cavity, reaching major organs and helping to release negative emotions and stress from the abdominal area – where they tend to sit and fester, creating a plethora of problems, such as IBS. The whole experience is not a pleasurable one, let me tell you.

Next up is my appointment with Doctor Bruce, the acupuncturist. His English is broken but he manages to get his point across with crystal-clear precision after I detail a typical week in London. “Fire, fire, fire – that is what you are creating in your body. You have to slow down, your lifestyle creates acid. More rest, less stress, sleep before 10pm. And one glass of wine a month max.” Given that he’s wielding needles as he speaks, I choose to refrain from telling him that last is never going to happen.

10pm: my worst nightmare – my nocturnal friend is back, as gratingly loud as ever. “Ah, he must be in mating,” coos the receptionist when I hold up the receiver so she can hear. I thought he might come calling again tonight, so I unpacked my ear plugs. But my lizard friend is having none of being muffled out: he’s crawled onto the wooden ledge just above my head and, like Big Ben, on the hour every hour till sunrise, he sings his love song to me.


It’s 9am. I’m standing at reception. “We are very sorry, madam, we understand the problem; but we have sent someone to your room, and we found nothing. There is nothing we can do. We cannot fumigate while you are in the room. And we are Buddhists… we are forbidden to kill. In Thailand, we believe all animals are sacred.”

“You have to be kidding me.” I’m annoyed. “I’ve had two sleepless nights; I need to rest – the reason I’m here is because I am beside myself with exhaustion. This is not what I travelled to the other side of the earth for – at great expense, may I add.”

“We understand, but we are fully booked, madam. The soonest we can look to move you is on Thursday.” We agree on a “catch and release” party to convene at my place after supper. I’m inconsolable that this little monster is ruining my otherwise perfect stay at Kamalaya. PR and I agree that I will sleep over at her beach villa if they don’t find him.

I spend the afternoon reading and lunching in the gardens. The quality and deliciousness of the food is superb, even on the detox diet, and the portions are plentiful. We pig out on vegetable soup, freshly baked salmon and a delicious salad of banana flower, beetroot, green mango and wakame. We finish every organic wheat-free , dairy-free and sugar-free scrap on the plate.

In fact, I encourage PR, who’s as grumpy as they come (obviously the result of giving-up-caffeine cold turkey; she’s a pack-of-Marlboros, six-cups-a-day type) to reduce her portions, cut back on the pints of coconut water and banana smoothies I have caught her imbibing, and increase her exercise. Or else extend her stay, as at the rate she’s going she won’t even touch her weight-loss ambitions.

I drop into a Fit Ball class, go for a lovely 45-minute run on the beach and end my day with a great Thai massage: full-on, walk-on-your-back, take-no-prisoner stuff.

At 9:30pm, a small army of friendly Thai faces carrying an assortment of non-lethal artillery arrives at the villa; by 11pm there is still no solution. We can hear him – yes, indeed – but we can’t see him. Like al-Qaeda, he’s just crawled into a hole.

Right, overnight bag it is. Move over, PR…

Spa Junkie pays for all her own travel, treatments and accommodation.